PHYSICAL ECOLOGY OF INDONESIA: POPULOUS NATION, REGIONAL LEADER, STRATEGICALLY LOCATED
by A. Joseph Lynch
Indonesia is home to over 252 million people, making it the fourth most-populous nation on the planet behind China, India, and the United States. Many people forget that Indonesia is 87% Sunni Muslim, and thus the largest Muslim nation in the world.
Indonesia is an important strategic partner for the United States in the region. Situated between Australia to the south and the South China Sea to the north, Indonesia acts as a regional buffer to Chinese expansion. Indonesia also occupies vital east-west waterways important to commercial shipping. This is particularly true regarding the Strait of Malacca. Located between Indonesia's island of Sumatra and the Asian nations of Malaysia and Singapore, 25% of all the world's goods passes through the Strait of Malacca.
The internal conflicts of Indonesia are based largely on religion. East Timor (pop 1 million) won its independence in 2002 after a bloody twenty year war. Most of Indonesia was settled and unifed by the Dutch but Timor was settled by Catholic Portuguese. The independence movement vivified a dormant Christian identity and East Timor is now 97% Catholic. The ACEH province on the island of Sumatra in the northwest of Indonesia is considered the birthplace of Islam in the islands. There is a movement there to more faithfully structure life on Islamic law. This was the province most devastated by the tsunami of Dec 26, 2004, which killed 250,000 people. 167.000 were from Indonesia. That event halted fighting between ACEH and the Indonesian central governemt but the Islamic movement is mounting again. There is agreement on both sides that the natural disaster was in retribution for sin.
Irian Jaya, West Papua is another contested region. It has 875,000 people. They are 3/4 Christian. It is the western part of the island of New Guinea(the second largest island in the world). It had been part of the Dutch East Indies and was annexed by Indonesia in 1969. The eastern part of the island is the country of Papua New Guinea (7 million pop and Christian). It was adminstered by Australia for 70 years, became independent in 1975 and is part of the British Commonwealth of Nations.
The founding father of Indonesia, Sukarno suggested five principles for the unification of the country emerging from WWII. He tried to unify multiple linguistically and ethnically diverse communities by blending three movements-monotheism, nationalism and socialism. The philosophy of the country is derived from two Javanese words for "five principals"-PANCASILA. Sukarno ranked them 1) nationalism of Indonesia; 2)Internationalism and humanity; 3) Deliberative consensus-democracy; 4)Social welfare; 5)Monotheism-religious duty. This was quickly reordered so Monotheism reigned as the first principle with the others to follow.
As President Sukarno leaned left there was an attempted coup and then a purge of Communist forces in 1965-66. From 80,000 to 500,000 were killed. It was the most significant anti Communist setback in Asia since the beginning of the Cold War. President Suharto (1965-1998) established his New Order more on anticommunist principles than Islamic but the religious culture of the country was a major reason this Asian giant did not fall under the Marxist spell.
Although Indonesia, like Malaysia, is an Islamic nation, Indonesia has bound itself more closely to its east Asian neighbors than to the Mideast. Key to its foreign policy is leadership within ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations). ASEAN is based out of Indonesia's capital of Jakarta and includes the nations of Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar (Burma), and Vietnam. Indonesia comprises the geographic heart of ASEAN and thus plays an important role in regional stability, economic prosperity, and deepening the cultural identity of southeast Asia. China, India and Japan are Asia's big three nations. Among the ten nations of ASEAN are significant cultural bastions against communism--Christian Philippines, Islamic Indonesia, and Buddhist-Islamic-Christian Singapore. May ASEAN build up their brother nations in peace and prosperity.
|Member nations of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations|